European shippers have plundered the Belmont Gold Cup Invitational (G2) for two years in a row, but the home team looks capable of reversing the trend in Friday’s $400,000 renewal at Belmont Park.
Arklow brings a high level of form as the fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) and the fast-finishing second in the Man o’ War (G1) last out May 11. That near-miss by a neck would have made the Brad Cox trainee a threat in Saturday’s Manhattan (G1). Connections preferred to stretch out and try two miles in the Gold Cup, however, instead of turning back in trip for the 1 1/4-mile Manhattan.
“On paper, we think he’s as good as the best there is in the country,” Jerry Crawford of co-owner Donegal Racing said, “but the mile and quarter is a little shorter than he would like so we decided to give the Belmont Gold Cup a whirl.
“There’s a little fear of the unknown in going this long but he’s showing signs of being able to get the two miles and we know that he likes the turf at Belmont. The time off did him well and it sets up well if we decide to keep him in training throughout the year and early next year.”
The 123-pound highweight, Arklow is spotting up to eight pounds here. Yet he is bred stoutly enough as a son of Arch out of an Empire Maker mare, and the two-time graded winner is eligible to be better than ever at the age of five. Florent Geroux stays aboard.
French import Canessar has won just once since coming stateside, in the 2017 Laurel Turf Cup, but the Aga Khan-bred was a bang-up second in this race last year. A repeat of that should make him go close, and the Arnaud Delacour charge enters off an identical sixth in the Elkhorn (G2). Elkhorn runner-up Red Knight arrives on the upswing for Hall of Famer Bill Mott. The only American-based runner with a victory at this marathon trip, the New York-bred proved his stamina in the H. Allen Jerkens at Gulfstream Park in December.
While two Europeans sport wins at or around this distance, Raa Atoll boasts the most notable victory in the May 11 Oleander-Rennen (G2) at Hoppegarten. That 32-1 upset, in his first outing for new owner/trainer Luke Comer, clinched a free berth in the Gold Cup. Previously with John Gosden, Raa Atoll was fourth in last summer’s King Edward VII (G2) at Royal Ascot, and the lightly raced son of Sea the Stars has plenty of upside. Comer reportedly has ambitions to wheel back for the Ascot Gold Cup (G1), and a long-term eye on the Melbourne Cup (G1).
Melbourne is also on the mind of Mootasadir’s trainer, Hugo Palmer, but the synthetic specialist has something to prove on turf. Although Alessandro Botti’s Amade has likewise spent most of his time on the all-weather, he did romp on soft going in the French provinces, and Australian-based OTI Racing bought into him this spring. More details will be forthcoming in the international scouting report on TwinSpires.com.
Hunter O’Riley was the best U.S. finisher in the 2017 Gold Cup, beaten a grand total of 2 1/2 lengths in fifth behind the all-Euro superfecta, and just edged for third in a three-way photo. The James Toner runner was at his peak then, going on to add the Bowling Green (G2) and take fourth in the Sword Dancer (G1). The question is whether he can return to that form after missing virtually all of 2018. Hunter O’Riley has been running on belatedly in the W.L. McKnight (G2), Mac Diarmida (G2), and Elkhorn, so it’s possible.
Highland Sky has yet to build upon his 2016 sophomore campaign, when his highlights included a neck second to Deauville in the Belmont Derby (G1). But he could be just the type to find new life at the distance, as his closing fifth in the March 30 Pan American (G2) hints. Mike Maker was the most recent American trainer to win, with Da Big Hoss (2016), and his recent claim Noble Thought has back class as the second in the 2017 Sky Classic (G2) at Woodbine. In his first start for the barn, he was a half-length runner-up to Devamani, who was himself a Gold Cup invitee.
If trainer Chad Brown has no representative in the Gold Cup, he’s double-handed in the $600,000 New York (G2) with Homerique and Competitionofideas, the respective one-two from the May 11 Beaugay (G3).
Homerique was making her U.S. debut in that 1 1/16-mile affair, and the return to 1 1/4 miles should suit her even better, considering her fine thirds in last season’s Prix de Diane (French Oaks) (G1) and Prix de l’Opera (G1). Competitionofideas scored her signature win at this trip in the American Oaks (G1). While she has to give Homerique four pounds as the 123-pound highweight, note that both of Brown’s wins in the New York have come courtesy of apparent second-fancies – Fourstar Crook edged champion Sistercharlie here last summer, and Dacita upset a troubled Sea Calisi in 2016.
Former Canadian champion Holy Helena, fifth a year ago in a wild pace scenario, promises to do better with a more typical tempo. Trained by Jimmy Jerkens, the Stronach Stables homebred was last seen catching Ickymasho to defend her The Very One (G3) title. Holy Helena missed the chance to repeat in the Sheepshead Bay (G2), the soft going on May 4 prompting a scratch.
The Very One third, Semper Sententiae, came back to finish a clear second in the Sheepshead Bay. She renews rivalry with the respective third through fifth – Giant Zinger, Vexatious, and Lady Montdore – all eligible to turn the page here.
Giant Zinger (whose dam, Hostess, placed in the 2007-8 runnings of the New York) had been a much closer third in the firm-turf Orchid (G3). Vexatious, the promoted winner of last October’s Dowager (G3), is another likely to prefer a quicker surface. The full sister to Creative Cause and Destin has switched to the Jack Sisterson barn. Godolphin’s Lady Montdore, heroine of the Glens Falls (G2) at Saratoga, figures to move forward in this second start off the layoff for Tom Albertrani.
Rounding out the field is Matty’s Magnum, who edged Semper Sententiae and Competitionofideas in an off-the-turf stakes at Aqueduct in November but exits a fifth in the Beaugay.